Buck 65 doesn't make things easy for himself. Ever since the press and the public caught wind of Buck 65, aka 35-year-old Richard Jerfry, in the late '90s, his identity—that of a white rapper from Nova Scotia—has been his onus.
Almost every review, including this one, mentions Terfry's unorthodox origins in paragraph one. You know, do they even have "the streets" in Nova Scotia?
But Terfry doesn't bow to his outlier status, doesn't slump toward hip-hop's center to get fame or credibility or to be part of the pack. He's alienated most rappers he's worked with, like the anticon. crew, who released his Man Overboard in 1999. In 2004, anticon. staple Sage Francis declared, "Buck has had his head up his arse for many years now" after Buck said he was disgusted with hip hop. The biography used to promote Situation, the 11th and most recent Buck 65 album, is an open letter from Terfry, who writes, "I get asked all the time, 'How would you describe your sound?' I don't have a good answer for that. I could say hip-hop, but a lot of people would disagree with that."
Instead, over 15 years, Terfry's fought the other way, sharpening a Tom Waits rasp over rhymes about pick-up trucks and tape decks, David Lynch and Bettie Page, centaurs and tabouli, all over parlor pianos, banjos, foreboding washes of samples and his own sporadic, schooled turntablism. The image-rich Situation is built from Terfry's newfound interest in Situationist International thought and his fascination with 1957, the year the first SI was formed, that the Brooklyn Dodgers left town, that Elvis dropped "Jailhouse Rock," that Bettie Page converted. It's an album full of pornography photographers, serial killers, drug addicts, pushy cops and general miscreants in the making. Its boom-bap beats push closer to hip hop than recent Buck 65 records, but the action—empathy for the devil, with nostalgia bridled by morality and modernity—is something altogether different.
Today, using one of two off-days on tour to make the 1,400-mile haul from San Diego to Dallas, Terfry doesn't sound much like a rapper at all. Terfry is completely humble and realistic, disappointed that his agent couldn't find a show between the two cities even with months of lead time. Like his raps, his conversations are bound to details—the woman he wants to marry, the death of his mother, the lack of money in his bank account. Landing clubs and luring audiences is getting harder, he says. Downloading (which he supports) is drowning the record industry, and so many bands are depending only on money from tours to pay the bills. He's heard that more bands are touring America right now than ever, and he's just a one-man Canadian rap act snaking through the deserts of the American Southwest in the winter.
"If that's where the consumer is going to spend their music-buying dollar, going to see a show because they're downloading their music, that's one thing," he says. "But there's only so far that dollar can stretch. Not everyone can go out and see a band every single night, so the impact reaches further and further. I'm feeling that now."
So what's a Nova Scotian outsider to do? Well, once again, he wasn't going to follow the model of rap, where almost everyone—from the biggest Def Jam emcees to the most miserable underground cranks—boasts of their rap skills, not their real situations. He's started pushing for more music licensing deals, and last year, he posted a plea on his Web site looking for a full-time job. He wasn't going to quit rap, but if he was going to keep it up, he needed more money.
The offers flooded his inbox, and one from Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Canadian-content-only satellite radio station was just what he needed. Before he leaves for tour now, he pre-records enough segments for a few weeks. When he gets back home, he goes on the air.
"There are benefits, including a dental plan. Musicians typically don't get benefits, so I got to admit I'm pretty psyched about that," he says. "It was a nice little miracle."
Buck 65 plays Cat's Cradle Thursday, Nov. 15, with Bernard Dolen at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.